The Obama Years: The Power of Words

Editor’s note: The Obama Years: The Power Of Words premiered on Smithsonian Channel on Monday, February 27, 2017
Narrator, actor and producer Jesse Williams reminds us that Barack Obama is as good of a writer, as he was our 44th Commander in Chief in the Smithsonian Channel documentary The Obama Years: The Power of Words.
The hour-long presentation punctuates the fact that as president, Barack Obama delivered more than 3,500 speeches that stirred and inspired a nation for eight years.
Williams defines Obama as “writer-in-chief,” and highlights many of the former president’s speeches including his speech after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, to his inspiring speech at the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, to his farewell address in his hometown of Chicago.
The program offers insight and behind-the-scenes look at Obama’s thought process when crafting a speech in longhand (Obama writes everything in longhand), to editing drafts written by his speechwriters Jon Favreau and Cody Keenan.
There are also interviews and commentary by historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Douglas Brinkley, and Obama’s key advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod.
Several highlights include young state senator Obama’s keynote address during the 2004 Democratic Convention that upstaged presidential candidate hopeful John Kerry, to writing speeches during turbulent times and chaotic incidents. Some of Obama’s speeches were carefully planned, while others were written under pressure in the back of the presidential limousine. Through it all, Obama the wordsmith, wrote or approved every paragraph, sentence and word in his speeches.
“Someday there will be the collected speeches of Barack Obama,” says historian Douglas Brinkley, “and I think they’ll tell us more about our hopes, dreams, aspirations and dark realities than any other document to represent that era.”


Fifty Shades Darker

By Khaleel Herbert

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan continue to create sparks as Anastasia and Christian in Fifty Shades Darker.
Fifty Shades Darker begins with Christian, a wealthy businessman, and Ana, an assistant to an editor at a publishing company, meeting at a restaurant. He wants to get back together with her, saying there are no rules or conditions. She hesitates, but she can’t resist him.
After their romantic alone-time, Ana starts running into Christian’s ex-girlfriends. One is Leila (Bella Heathcote). Christian dumped her after they dated awhile and she moved away. She got married, but her husband died in a car accident. Leila appears outside Ana’s office, looking desperate for a tan and shower with her grotesquely pale skin and homeless appearance.
The second woman on the list is Elena (Kim Basinger). Ana meets her at Christian’s masquerade ball. She says Christian will tire of Ana and move on to another woman. She advises her to end the relationship now. While Ana deals with Christian’s previous women, Christian confronts losing his mother to cocaine addiction as a young child and his other psychological issues.
Christian is commanding and controls all the women he knows like they’re his pets. And the kicker is they obey him, without even thinking about it! He even goes as far as keeping Ana from going to New York with her boss, Jack (Eric Johnson). Ana does obey him in certain instances, but most of the time she doesn’t, which bothers Christian (and is funny to watch).
Fifty Shades Darker is an amped-up love story. With the explicitly intimate scenes, it still has a story. If you think about it, Fifty Shades is really a rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Christian hides his dark side in his wealth and pursuance of beautiful women. But when Ana steps in, she tames him and makes him a better person. He can’t live without her and she can’t live without him.
There are suspense scenes that should have been expanded. The film could have been 20 minutes shorter, but was still good. Like the Marvel movies, stick around during the credits because there’s a big surprise.


The Comedian
By Khaleel Herbert

Robert De Niro trades in his serious face for a funnier one in The Comedian.
Niro plays Jackie Burke, an old-time comedian from a popular sitcom. When the sitcom ended, Burke transitioned to standup comedy and has performed in countless cities. He returns to New York City to give a show at a small comedy club.

After getting in a fight with a member of the audience, Burke is sentenced to 30 days in prison and 100 hours of community service. While working at the local soup kitchen and cracking bad pilgrim jokes, he meets Harmony Schiltz (Leslie Mann), a fellow convict who is serving 250 hours for assaulting her ex-boyfriend.
Burke feels bad when Schiltz says she is having a terrible day. He takes her out to a comedy club, where he shows off his on-the-cusp comedy. Then he asks her to attend his niece’s wedding as his “wingman,” after his brother Jimmy (Danny DeVito) and his wife, Florence (Pattie LuPone) heckle him for never keeping in touch.
The Comedian is supposed to be a comedy, but there are only a few scenes that are funny. Some of Burke’s jokes went too far that they became disturbingly unfunny. A few of these jokes included him picking on his niece for being a lesbian, saying his father molested Jimmy and found Jackie unattractive, and saying pilgrims would have sex with turkeys instead of eating them. Billy Crystal was funnier, appearing on screen for only a few minutes.
My photojournalism professor is funnier than Jackie Burke.
The few good jokes from Burke included picking on a man with a face like Donald Trump and calling Flo an 800-pound gorilla. The plot fell flat when Jackie and Harmony had a romantic fling and she ran away to Florida with her father, Mac (Harvey Keitel).
Either Niro should stick to his serious roles or work with better comedic writers. The Comedian was far from funny and as Jackie described in a song he sang with senior citizens at a retirement home, this movie was a load of “poopie!”


Ernie Hudson:  There’s Nothing Like It Out There
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photos courtesy of Fox

It’s nearly impossible to scroll through your television channels without coming across a cop show. As evidence indicates, there’s a huge thirst for the genre.
“It was all about cowboys when I was a kid and suddenly it became about a lot of police,” says 71-year-old Ernie Hudson, who plays a police captain in Fox’s “APB,” the latest cop drama to air on television. “I think we are all concerned with crime and what’s going in the communities.”
A series inspired by the New York Times Magazine article “Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans” by David Amsden, “APB” follows an eccentric billionaire engineer (played by Justin Kirk) who after witnessing the murder of his best friend takes charge of the troubled Chicago Police Department with an aim to turn into the city’s most advanced district.
The cast includes Natalie Martinez, Caitlin Stasey, Taylor Handley, Tamberla Perry and Nestor Serrano.
“It’s a show about policing and about some new ideas and there isn’t anything like it out there now,” adds Hudson whose character Ned Conrad is a skeptical police captain.
“He’s a guy who has been around a long time and has seen a breakdown of community policing. He is looking forward to retirement and this creative guy with all these ideas comes in,” Hudson explains. “Most of the department hates the thought of this. He is skeptical, but also sees the possibility that this could work as he knows we need change and sees this as an opportunity to make a direct difference himself.”
With high-tech tools and crime-tracking apps, it’s a series which shows how advanced technology can be applied to old-fashioned police work. For Hudson who is well known for his role in the 1984 feature film Ghostbusters, and this past year’s new version of Ghostbusters, that sets it apart from the norm of existing cop dramas.
“Fox came to me and said ‘we like your work and we want to work with you.’ That meant a lot as that does not always happen in this business,” adds the actor who has a long list of television credits that includes Oz, Law & Order, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Key & Peele and Grace & Frankie.
“With so many grievances and so much going on within certain communities, it was important for me that a show like this be so we can take a look at some of the stuff we are dealing with. This is a different way and a different approach to law enforcement. There are a lot of cop shows, but what I like about our show is that it’s procedural and what our show does is ask if we can try something different. What if we had the financial means and we could use that for the benefit of all people in the community. This show opens the door to have that discussion.”


AAFCA Awards 2017: Eight Most Memorable Moments
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
Photos by Sheri Determan

The 8th annual AAFCA awards – a.k.a. Hollywood’s Black Oscars – took place at the Taglyan Complex in Los Angeles last month. Bigger, better and bolder, it was everything we’d come to expect from this prolific organization, which celebrates achievements in film and television. There were a plenty of applauses, several non-surprises, standing ovations, some witty commentary and grandiose speeches.
1. Last year was a historic year for black film with blacks excelling in all facets of film and television production. AAFCA’s Breakout Performance winner, Janelle Monáe, touched on the importance of her accolade with an impassioned speech, dedicating her award to the characters she portrayed in films Hidden Figures and Moonlight.
2. Vanguard Award recipient, director Lee Daniels, made no qualms about his quest to tell stories of the Black experience. “I just do what I do,” said the Empire and Star TV series Helmer. “Often times I get in trouble for it, but I don’t care. I care about one thing, which is telling stories that matter.”
3. Disney’s Zootopia co-director Byron Howard received the AAFCA award for Best Animated film of 2016 and shared insights on the making of the charming and delightful 3D animated film.
4. Several standing ovations for Moonlight movie director Barry Jenkins who received a Best Director nod. The film, a firm favorite with  AAFCA members, earned multiple awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali.
5. A moving segment celebrating the 50thAnniversary release of the Stanley Kramer’s groundbreaking 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and a deserving Inaugural Icon Award for its leading man Sidney Poitier.
6. Clips of the African-American Film Critics Association’s top 10 films of 2016, which included Lion, The Birth of a Nation and Manchester by the Sea.
7. Actor Demetrius Shipp Jr., introducing the trailer to the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez On Me to gasps and cheers from an appreciative audience on his uncanny resemblance to deceased rapper. The film releases in June.
8. A standing ovation for the engaging series Queen Sugar, which grabbed the top TV award of 2016.